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There's a Lot of Balance if Woods Isn't Beaming

November 20, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

So this is what happens when Tiger Woods doesn't win a major. Parity. At least that's what made the Tour Championship interesting for a while, until neither Woods nor Vijay Singh won it and thus failed to settle the player-of-the-year issue once and for all.

Come to think of it, did anybody back in January ever link the words Tiger, Singh and player of the year?

It's all Tiger's fault anyway. In 2003, Woods did not dominate the PGA Tour in his usual manner. Not only did Singh take the money title away from Woods, who had won it four consecutive years, but he also served notice that there are a lot of other players out there who think they can stand up to Woods, at least on paper.

There were eight multiple tournament winners this year on the PGA Tour, and it should not be a surprise that Woods has more victories than anyone with five.

What should be a surprise is that none of those wins was in a major championship.

Usually, the player-of-the-year category contains only one name, that being Woods, as he has won it the last four years and five of the last six.

Singh had four victories, as did Davis Love III. Kenny Perry had three, the same as Mike Weir, who won the Masters. Nobody else won more than two times and Jim Furyk, the U.S. Open champion, is also in that group.

With Woods, Singh and Love, it's the first time since 1973 that three players have won at least four times in one year. Jack Nicklaus had seven, Tom Weiskopf five and Bruce Crampton four in 1973.

Woods already has won the PGA of America's player-of-the-year award, for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. That award is based on performance in tournaments, scoring and money winnings, not on players' votes the way the PGA Tour's award is.

By the way, Woods also had the lowest scoring average for a record fifth consecutive year.

But the debate raged on, whether too much is made of who wins the majors or too little. No one would be talking about this at all if Woods had won one of them. He would be the obvious choice for the award when it is announced Dec. 8.

Is there too much emphasis on the outcome of four tournaments four weeks a year? It depends on who's winning them.

For instance, nobody really thought it was odd that Weir won at Augusta National, even though he was the first Canadian and first left-hander to do that. Weir is an acknowledged talent.

And no one raised a hand to protest Furyk's victory at Olympia Fields, although he is probably the first player to win the U.S. Open with a swing that looks as if he found it at a garage sale.

No, the debate was shifted into high gear when Ben Curtis won the British Open at Sandwich and Shaun Micheel won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Because neither player has finished in the top 10 in any tournament since, some have relegated their success to the fluke bin.

However you come down in the conversation, it's a fitting simile for 2003 on the PGA Tour. Strange or wonderful, take your pick.

Let us return to January and the friendly Plantation Course at Kapalua on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Ernie Els found it much to his liking, so much so that he shot 31 under par, a PGA Tour scoring record in relation to par, and won by eight shots.

He also won the Sony Open in Honolulu the next week, which qualifies for a fast start. Els didn't win after that, not on the PGA Tour anyway, although he dominated the European Tour, winning the Order of Merit for the lowest scoring average.

But when Els got off to his fast start in Hawaii, Woods wasn't even playing.

Woods had knee surgery in December and didn't make his comeback until mid-February at Torrey Pines. Tiger won. Two weeks later at La Costa, he won again. His next tournament was at Bay Hill, where he would finally match up, face to face, against Els. Tiger won there by 11 shots. Els shot 72-77 on the weekend and tied for 38th.

Move on to the next huge issue in 2003, the Masters protests. The National Council of Women's Organizations had let it be known that there would be protests during the Masters in response to the lack of any female members at Augusta.

Even with such disparate interests as the Ku Klux Klan and Jesse Jackson involved, the protest didn't turn out to be much, and in fact was attended by more media members than protesters.

There was no shortage of news or unexpected events the rest of the year.

Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play a PGA Tour event when she entered the Colonial in May, despite the spirited objections of Singh, who announced he would withdraw if paired with Sorenstam, even though there was no chance of that happening according to the rules. Ultimately, there became an even greater reason for Singh's not being paired with Sorenstam: He abruptly pulled out of the tournament.

Furyk persevered at Olympia Fields, which the players thought was too easy at the start of the week and then too hard at the end of it.

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